Hapkido – Korean Martial Arts Style

Hapkido – Korean Martial Arts Style

Hapkido – Korean Martial Arts Style. Hapkido focuses on punches, kicks, throws and joint locks.

Hapkido classes often have some weapons training (i.e. with staffs, canes and swords). Hapkido also emphasizes circular motion, non-resisting movements and control of an opponent. Unlike the Korean martial arts of Taekwondo, Hapkido generally does not use forms & patterns as part of its training.

Hapkido Description

According to the Korea Hapkido Federation USA, Hapkido is a system of unarmed fighting and weapons techniques to defeat both armed and unarmed opponents. Hapkido contains both long- and close-range fighting techniques, utilizing specialized Hapkido kicks and percussive hand strikes at longer ranges and pressure point strikes, Hapkido joint locks, and or throws at closer fighting distances.

Hapkido emphasizes circular motion, breathing techniques, non-resisting movements, and control of the opponent. Hapkido practitioners seek to gain advantage through footwork and body positioning to employ leverage, avoiding the use of strength against strength.

As a Hapkido student advances through their studies at their chosen Hapkido School (dojang), they will learn how to employ and defend against various weapons. Weapons training usually consists of knife training, short stick, walking cane, rope, long staff and sword. Hapkido students are trained to use and defend against these weapons and to also defend against common weapons such are firearms, broken bottles etc…

Hapkido has long been popular with various special operations military and police organizations throughout the world because it provides both lethal and controlling Hapkido techniques so that an individual can employ only the amount of force needed for the situation. In Korea, the Presidential bodyguards and the Seoul Police SWAT Teams all train in Korea Hapkido Federation style Hapkido.

History of Hapkido

According to the World Hapkido Association, Hapikdo was founded by Yong Sool Choi. They state that Yong Sool Choi was born in Korea but raised in Japan where he learned Daito-Ryu Aikijujutsu, an art which emphasized the use of joint locks, strikes and nerve attacks to neutralize an opponent. After the end of World War 2 and the Japanese occupation of Korea, Choi decided to return to his homeland of Korea.

Choi brought back with him the art Daito-Ryu Aikijujitsu which was the “Yusool” of the Shilla kingdom and long forgotten in his own land. It should also be noted that the “Yusool” of Hapkido that has been developed in Korea after Choi’s return should not be considered as Daito-Ryu anymore.

In fact, it is believed that Choi wanted to develop a system that is comparable to modern society as a practical martial art, instead of teaching the original Daito-Ryu which is an ancient battle field system with special consideration of fighting an armored opponent.

What caused the martial arts style of Hapkido to grow? Effectiveness. As history tells it, a Korean man by the name of Suh Bok Sub watched one man amazingly defend himself against multiple attackers. Being a judo black belt himself, Suh invited this man, Choi Yong Sul, to train with him. Choi brought knowledge of Daitô-ryû Aiki-jûjutsu to the table.

Though there are many different accounts of hapkido’s history, one thing is for certain. These two Korean nationals sure had a lot to do with it.

Choi Yong Sul

Choi Yong Sul (1899-1986) set in motion the teachings that would eventually become known as hapkido. Choi, a Korean, moved to Japan as a young boy where he claimed the following:

  • To have learned Daitô-ryû Aiki-jûjutsu, a precursor of aikido, under Takeda Sokaku for approximately 30 years.
  • That he is the only one that learned the full extent of Takeda’s teachings and was adopted by him.

Many argue that Takeda would never have adopted a poor Korean boy (the Japanese considered themselves superior) and that Choi was likely a servant. The degree to which Choi trained under Takeda is also a contentious topic.

Suh Bok-Sub

Suh Bok Sub was Choi’s first student. A judo black belt by his 20’s, he became interested in Choi’s teachings after seeing him defend himself against the attackers noted earlier at a brewery company, he was chairman of. Soon after, Choi began teaching his martial arts style to Suh and some of his workers at Suh’s dojang.

The art became more formal and grew as these two worked together. One of the ways the style grew, in fact, happened via publicity when Suh defeated a much larger brother in law of one of his father’s political adversaries in hand to hand combat.

Ji Han Jae

If Choi Yong Sul started hapkido, Ji Han Jae popularized it. Serving as head hapkido instructor to the presidential bodyguard under Korean President Park Jung Hee, Ji’s connections gave the art clout, allowing him to eventually form the Korea Hapkido Association in 1965.

Further, he added more Korean punching and kicking techniques to the art and founded his own style (sin moo hapkido) after moving to Germany and then the U.S. in 1984. In 1986, Ji claimed to have founded hapkido instead of Choi, noting his influence on striking and weapons. Of course, this is highly disputed.

The Name Hapkido

The term hapkido literally translates to “The way of coordination and internal power.” Historical accounts of who and how this name was given to the martial arts style of hapkido differ. Suh Bok Sub said that in 1959, he and Choi decided to shorten the name of the art from ‘hapki yu kwon sool’ to Hapkido.

However, Ji Han Jae once asserted that he was the first to use the term ‘hapkido’ to refer to the art in question. What we do know is that the style’s name can be written utilizing the same traditional Chinese characters which would have been used to refer to the Japanese martial art of aikido prior to 1945.

Characteristics of Hapkido

Hapkido attempts to be a complete fighting style, rather than a specialization art. Along with this, it uses the soft techniques it borrowed from aikido to use an opponents’ energy against them with throws and standing joint locks, along with the hard punching and kicking techniques it borrowed from Tae Kwon Do and Tang Soo Do. Weapons usage is also focused on. One of the things that makes hapkido somewhat unique is its use of circular rather than linear movements.

Hapkido is meant to be a style of self-defense, not sport. That said, some styles of hapkido do teach a level of grappling.

Basic Goals of Hapkido

The basic goals of Hapkido are tied to its attempts at self-defense. Thus, a practitioners’ goal will be to disable their opponent. Often this is done by using striking to bridge distance before clinching and gaining a takedown/throw. There, one of several techniques, including a joint lock, may be used to stop an adversary.

Major Hapkido Organizations

  • International Combat Hapkido Federation (ICHF)
  • International Hapkido Federation (IHF)
  • International H.K.D Federation (IHF)
  • JungKiKwan Hapkido Association (JHA)
  • Korea Hapkido Federation (KHF)
  • Korea Hapkido Federation Yoo Sool Kwan Brazil
  • World Hapkido Association (WHA)


As with all martial arts styles with some history to them, an abundance of offshoots of hapkido have sprung up. That said, these all share several commonalities with the art of hapkido that Choi first initiated. Here is a sampling:

  • Combat Hapkido
  • Jin Jung Kwan Hapkido
  • Shinshei Hapkido
  • Sin Moo Hapkido

Some Arts That Hapkido Sprang From:

  • Aikido: Choi Yong Sul learned Daitô-ryû Aiki-jûjutsu under Takeda Sokaku while in Japan. This art would form the basis for aikido later. Aikido’s influence in throws and joint locks can very much be seen in hapkido’s teachings.
  • Judo: Due to judo black belt Suh Bok Sub’s help formulating the art, Hapkido employs many judo style takedowns.
  • Tae Kwon Do: The kicks and punches from this Korean striking art were brought into hapkido mostly through the influence of Kim Moo Hong (student of Choi and Suh) and Ji Han Jae.
  • Tang Soo Do: Similarly, Tang Soo Do style striking was also brought in.

Author: selfdefensespecialist

I`m Nigel Taylor – originally from England – owner of The Backyard Gym in Round Rock Texas. We specialize in personal training, kickboxing cardio and self-defense. With over 25 years experience as a personal trainer, I know what works! From weight loss to bulking up to toning up, I can help you get your desired look and achieve your fitness goals. I can also offer you the privacy of a 100% private personal training studio in which to enjoy and get the most out of your workouts.